Monday, September 12, 2011

The Importance of Doctrine

One disagreement within Christianity regards the importance of doctrine. The opponent of my “all doctrine is important” position will argue “Doctrine is Divisive”, “We should just focus on living a godly life” or “We should be evangelising to non-Christians instead” to justify their position.

Agreed, evangelism is a Christian duty, we should absolutely live a godly life and some false doctrines don’t warrant excommunication. Labelling someone a heretic for believing supralapsarianism or traducianism (dictionary at bottom) when I don’t would be radical in light of the conduct prescribed by Paul in Romans 14. However, pointing out doctrinal errors of varying magnitudes is not wrong as the notion that doctrine is unimportant is thoroughly unbiblical and dangerous.

It must be clarified that the statement that all doctrine is essential does not mean all doctrines are essential for salvation. Secondly, not all doctrines share equal importance; for example, the holiness of God is more important than liturgy. There is a difference between essential doctrines (all Scripture), and doctrines essential for salvation as such as:

- There is one God; the God of the Bible (Isaiah 43:10).
- Jesus Christ is Lord and God (John 8:24, Romans 10:9).
- Christ died for sins, was buried and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
- We are sinners saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. (Romans 5:1, Ephesians 2:8-9).

There are numerous reasons why all doctrine is essential, though citing brevity I’ll detail just four and answer objections along the way.

Firstly, Scripture itself affirms all doctrine is essential. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB) states “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work”. The quoted traits are attributed to the entirety of the OT, and by implication the whole NT also (c.f. 1 Timothy 5:18, 2 Peter 3:15-16, Revelation 22:18-19). “All Scripture is…profitable…equip(s) for every good work”. This asserts that the Scripture - authenticated by its Divine origin - affirms its own importance and the requirement for it to be studied in its entirety to equip for every good work.

Further verses proving Scripture itself asserts the importance of all doctrine include Matthew 4:4 where Jesus commands Man to live “On every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God”; 1 Timothy 4:6 where God describes “a good servant of Christ Jesus” as someone who is “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine”.

 Hebrews 5:12-6:1 which contrary to the ‘doctrine is unimportant movement’ commands that Christians “leave the elementary teaching about the Christ” and instead “press on to maturity” meaning harder doctrine. "The milk" or "the elementary principles of the oracles of God" are not prescribed for the "mature" in faith: they are to press on to maturity: the "solid food". Just as newborns drink milk rather than eat steak, but eventually progress from milk to solid food, so to the milk (the basics) is for the new believer, while the mature Christian is commanded to press on to maturity: eat the solid food. It is clearly evident that God’s own testimony affirms that all doctrine is essential.

Secondly, Matthew 22:37 quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 by stating “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' Loving God isn’t only emotional - rather it includes the mind too; studying doctrine expresses loving God with your mind. Pursuing theological truth honours and glorifies God as learning doctrinally is an aspect of sanctification. Verses supporting this include John 17:17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” and Ephesians 4:24 “and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Learning doctrine is inseparable from loving God. Here we see that "doctrine divides" those who are eager to love God with their mind for those who would rather not.

Thirdly, it’s impossible to separate Christ from the Scriptural truths revealing Him. Therefore, to imitate Christ you must learn the truths about Him. (Ephesians 5:1-2, Matthew 5:48, Luke 6:36, Ephesians 4:32). This fact refutes the “We should just focus on living a godly life” argument, as the two are inseparable because knowing what a godly life encompasses revolves around knowing theology. How can anyone imitate Christ if they do not know what to imitate? Christ lived the godly life, for us to do likewise in gratitude towards Him, we must know about Him.

To the objection that “We should be evangelising to non-Christians instead”, I reiterate that evangelism is a commanded duty of believers (Matthew 28:18-19, Mark 16:15), but it isn’t the only commanded duty of believers as proven earlier. Furthermore, knowing doctrine and evangelism are not polar opposites but interrelated and interdependent.

1 Peter 3:15 commands “always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” and Colossians 4:6 states we are to “know how you should respond to each person”. These verses command us in evangelism not just to be able to recite the gospel – but always be able to answer objections raised against Christianity.

Four of the most common objections to Christianity are:

1)      People believe in thousands of different God’s, why is the Christian God the true God and not Allah, Buddha or Zeus?
2)      Science has disproven
3)      The Bible is filled with scientific errors; for example it says that rabbits chew their cud (Leviticus 11:6), grasshoppers have four legs (Leviticus 11:20-23) and the earth is flat (Micah 5:4, Romans 10:18).
4)      You say that God is all powerful and without sin, yet there is evil and suffering in the world. So either God likes the presence of evil and suffering so is evil or He hates them but cannot stop it so he is not all powerful. Either way the Christian God cannot exist.

Obviously you require far more doctrinal knowledge than Romans 10:9 and John 3:16 to be able to answer these objections to Christianity, so rather than doctrine preventing evangelism, biblical evangelism actually requires doctrine!

To the first, you must understand the Attributes of God, the Trinity and the work of the Holy Spirit. To the second "Jesus died on the cross" will not suffice; the non-Christian would reply to that "the resurrection is scientifically impossible".

To the third,  the Hebrew doesn’t say rabbits chew their cud, rather correctly states rabbits practise refection – yes Hebrew required here! The grasshoppers two hind jumping legs aren’t included as ordinary legs as the passage states grasshoppers ‘go on all fours (and) have jointed legs above their feet’. ‘Ends of the earth’ doesn’t imply the earth is rectangular with edges; rather the ends of the earth are gentile nations. After Pentecost the gospel spread to semi-Jewish nations, then to gentile nations.

To the fourth, God is all-powerful, without sin, can stop evil and hates evil, but to actually refute the fourth objection, would require explaining the eternal decrees, the sovereignty and providence of God, which are "highly divisive doctrines"! I guess, "God is evil or has been defeated - take your pick" will have to do.

Conclusively, all doctrine is important because Scripture explicitly states so. Additionally, knowing doctrine is to love God with your mind and doctrine is essential to imitate Jesus Christ and for biblical evangelism.

Supralapsarianism and Traducianism: Don’t bother what they are; they are theological jargon to express my point
Sanctification: Process whereby believers are conformed to the image of God until death

(C), J. Williams, September 2009.

1 comment:

  1. Dunno if you allow pingbacks (or whatever), but I linked to you and this discussion here: